The Lookout, Lepe Country Park

The Lookout, on the coastal edge of the New Forest National Park, is a new visitor centre and restaurant providing visitors with stylish recreational space in a picturesque setting. Hampshire County Council was both client and designer for this project, which used a JCT Standard Building Contract.

The Lookout at Lepe Country Park is one of the few points that provides easy access to the coastline within the New Forest. It has always been a popular spot with visitors, due to its history and stunning natural scenery. The evidence of Lepe’s role in the preparation for the D-Day landings can still be seen; the beach was used to build some of the huge concrete caissons that were transported across the Channel to form the famous Mulberry Harbour, keeping the troops supplied during the invasion. Flanked by trees, the coast looks out across the Solent, with views of the Isle of Wight.

The previous café and visitor facility had become dated and suffered £100,000 worth of damage four years ago, when it was flooded due to a storm that struck the south coast. Plans to build the new cafe and visitor centre were approved in 2016. The project is part of an ongoing programme of work to improve and regenerate a number of country parks within Hampshire. The county council contributed £1.85m towards the project, which also received a £850,000 grant from the Enterprise M3 LEP Local Growth Fund.

Work on The Lookout was completed by the council’s Property Services arm. The new centre includes a restaurant, visitor information point, offices, and supporting facilities. It aims to attract around half a million visitors each year.

The new design was inspired by MLTW’s Condominium 1 at the Sea Ranch in California and Junzo Yoshimura’s summer house in Japan, taking direct inspiration from the coast in its use of open, flowing lines, timber boardwalks, and straight geometries.

Inside, The Lookout comprises of two connected spaces. A simple box design at the rear of the building contains the service areas including offices, a meeting room, a visitor information point and the restaurant’s kitchen. The front of the building contains the restaurant’s seating area, which is more open and looks out across the beach through a band of large windows. A shallow-sloped pitched roof tops the space, which also houses clerestory windows to provide a view of trees to the building’s rear.

The restaurant area connects at either end with east and west-facing terraces that are lined with curving timber balustrades. At the eastern end, with views looking out to sea, there is a servery with outside tables for al fresco dining.

Whilst a small and relatively simple project, The Lookout did present several challenges for the project team. The site itself is a relatively restricted narrow strip of land. Constructing at beach level was a test of both the planning policy and the expertise and skill of the designers and engineers. It was also important that the ethos behind the project was reflected in the final building. The design and materials used needed to connect and be harmonious with the environment, but also reflect the location’s often harsh and brutal conditions. This meant that longevity and robustness were equally important.

To achieve this, the building is elevated 2.5m above the beach to reduce its vulnerability to high water levels and tidal surges due to storms. The row of concrete fins that support the structure are set at a level that is designed to mitigate against rising water levels for the next 100 years. The shallow, mono-pitched roof provides necessary shelter and shading, whilst the use of glazing – the large band of windows facing out from the restaurant and clerestory windows in the roof connect to the sea and land respectively.

The straight lines of the timber boardwalks and roof mirror the coastline and provide a nautical flavour, whilst the looser shape of the timber clad terraces connects to the natural wave of the sea. The timber cladding that wraps the terraces is also used to line the stairs, some of the surface of the two main structural volumes, and a separate toilet block at beach level, further providing protection and an aesthetic link with the surroundings.

Since its original construction there have been further enhancements carried out, including upgrading the parking facilities, new installations of play facilities, and the addition of a sensory cottage garden, which was created with a local community group, the Friends of Lepe.

For a project designed to last 100 years against the elements, it is appropriate that it employs a contract that has been in use for nearly as long. The JCT Standard Building Contract With Quantities – analogous to the project itself – enables the requirement of a robust build and sensitive design to be accurately reflected. Its reliability and signifier of excellence within the industry provides smooth sailing for many a project, and as such, The Lookout will weather a storm for many years to come.

PROJECT SUMMARY
Start date: ……………………..February 2017
Completion: …………………..July 2018
Size: ……………………………..355m2
Cost: …………………………….£1.7m
Contract: ……………………….JCT Standard Building Contract With Quantities
Architect: ………………………Hampshire County Council Property Services
Client: …………………………..Hampshire County Council Property Services
Structural engineer: ………..Hampshire County Council Property Services
M&E consultant: …………….Hampshire County Council Property Services
Quantity surveyor: ………….Hampshire County Council Property Services
Landscape consultant: ……Hampshire County Council Property Services
Main contractor: …………….W Stirland
CAD software: ……………….Vectorworks
Annual CO2 emissions: ……75kg/m2